Suit alleges NCAA policy exploits walk-on players

Updated: May 20, 2004, 7:24 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- A former Washington walk-on is suing the NCAA, claiming the organization violates federal antitrust laws by limiting the number of football scholarships that can be awarded.

Andy Carroll, who played receiver and special teams before graduating in 2000, filed a proposed class-action lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

"Schools limit the number of scholarships, but they function on the unseen player, the walk-on player," Carroll said Thursday. "They wouldn't survive without them. I feel they should be compensated."

The lawsuit seeks to end scholarship restrictions, and it seeks unspecified damages on behalf of all non-scholarship players on NCAA Division I-A football rosters over the past four years.

NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said the lawsuit has no merit because "numerous courts" have determined that competing in intercollegiate athletics is a privilege and not a right.

"The NCAA has also successfully defended the right of its member institutions to establish rules governing the administration of intercollegiate athletics, including the right to set the limit and value of grants-in-aid," Christianson said. "This case flies in the face of previous court decisions."

Carroll's lawyer, Steve Berman, said thousands of former players could be included if the case is certified as a class action.

Berman said it's unfair for schools to restrict football scholarships when many Division I-A coaches earn seven-figure salaries and the NCAA and its members reap millions of dollars from TV contracts and other revenues.

"The NCAA's artificial limit on the number of football scholarships is classic cartel behavior," the lawsuit says. "The NCAA and its member institutions control big-time college football. The NCAA uses that control to maximize revenues and minimize costs."

Carroll, now a Seattle real estate salesman, claims Washington coaches led him to believe he could receive a scholarship during his playing career but was told later that none was available.

He was no Rudy Ruettiger, the former Notre Dame walk-on who finally got in for the final play of his last home game.

Carroll lettered three straight seasons from 1997-99. He turned down potential scholarship offers from other schools -- including Oregon State, UNLV and smaller colleges -- because he wanted to be a Husky.

"There were parts of me that said maybe I could go to a smaller school and be a starter, maybe even be a star, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could play on the bigger stage," he said.

Carroll said he understood from Washington coaches that nothing was promised when he agreed to walk on.

"Totally. You do enter it with nothing promised," he said. "But there is the indication that if you get on the field and produce for the program, you have the potential to earn a scholarship. You feel you've earned it and when you go to ask for it, you're told they don't have it."

The NCAA limits Division I-A football teams to 85 scholarship players. Until 1977, schools were allowed to offer as many scholarships as they saw fit -- an era when top programs routinely stockpiled top players.

The number of scholarships was set at 95 from 1977-91; at 92 in 1992; and 88 in 1993. It has been at 85 since 1994.

Proponents say the reductions have made it easier for smaller colleges to compete against traditional heavyweights, as well as making it easier for all colleges to comply with federal Title IX gender-equity rules that require the same number of scholarships for men and women.

Berman said the scholarship reductions haven't altered the landscape of college football, and the lawsuit says the limits actually have helped maintain the most successful programs at the expense of lesser schools.

"If you look back at the dominant schools of the early 1970s, the '60s and '50s, the dominant schools of today are the same: Texas, USC, Michigan and the like," he said. "There hasn't really been any difference because of this rule."

Berman is considered one of the nation's top class-action lawyers, representing Washington in the $206 billion settlement between several states and the four major tobacco companies.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press